If human civilisation has indeed gone on for more than 10 thousand years, instead of scraping two,  mankind must surely have found some way to build utopia and stop every sorrow in the universe. But hell, this is real life. We haven’t even got rid of smoking.

And that is what McCormack was doing, as he pushed his way out of the fire exit of the St Michael Airport Hotel. He greeted the cleaning ladies on the way out- hell, they needed some courtesy. The hotel was going to use androids for maintenance soon enough. Even non-union vassals weren’t efficient enough with the rent these days.

A nicotine quota flashed up in his visual field and McCormack waved it away irritatedly. Slung on his shoulder was a tripod in a canvas bag. As far as everyone was concerned, he was just a grizzled streamer for Gencon. The latter depreciating rapidly as a profession as direct streams from eyeballs to the net via brainware were gaining market acceptance as more Corp citizens  went online brain-to-web.

At worst, an observer would take him for Allan Robinson, a post-cryo rehabilitated war-vet, struggling to adapt. Under that guise, he was Carlos Velligas, a terrorist on the INTERPOL top ten most wanted list... and under that cover was who he really was: A spook, no dental, prints, retinal scans on any biometric database – a lethal covert ops agent working for the greater good of all mankind on Gaia. An economic hitman.

McCormack can still remember when the ships came, a good three decades ago. His handlers let him keep that memory. There he was, 20-something, clean shaven and his bolt action gripped too tightly in his shaking hands. The cacophony of shells exploding abated just enough to become a chilling drone. A titanic metal vessel was suspended in the sky like a shiny cruiseliner out of water. He remembered raising his scope to his face, his barrel trained on something to kill, but the metal hull of the spacecraft was seamless. And out of the sky boomed a masculine voice:

“The war is over. Return to your homes.”

That message would repeat itself over and over for the next week.

And then, it started to rain boxes. Boxes attached to tiny parachutes.

“Bombs! Goddammit, they are bombing us!”

McCormack remembered shooting a few of those boxes out of the sky, the satisfying pressure on his shoulder as the recoil followed ejection of one empty 7.62mm casing after and another- his right arm like a piston, cocking the charging handle and pulling the trigger in sequence. But the boxes kept coming, floating down slowly like a rain of umbrellas. None of them exploded so far, but he was not going to wait for that to happen.

“Git out! Run!”

He forgot whose voice that was, but remembered then ducking like an idiot, scrambling out of the deathtrap of his foxhole alongside platoon 7. Their faces and very names a vague blur in his recollection. When the boxes finally reached chest-height, McCormack dived prone, scraping his already callused elbows as he landed in an artillery brace position, boots together, hands covering the back of his neck, his eyes pinched shut. Death did not come. His breathing filled his universe.

The stench of sweat under his collar, the abrasions lining his groin, chest and joints reminding himself of just how much mortality sucked. All those weeks outliving braver men and smelling his own piss in a trench and now this.

Nothing. No flash of heat. No bacon-like smell of cooking flesh, no ‘boom’.

McCormack remembered opening his eyes. A box landed not three inches from his face, its tiny parachute collapsing like a punctured soufflé. The surface of the box lit up, like a tiny television. A circle consisting of three ribbon-like loops joined together rotated rapidly and then stretched into a single white horizontal line.

“Hello” said the box.

Its feminine syllables causing the line to exude wave-like points from its center.

“H-hello? Are you talking to me?” McCormack managed, after almost an eternity of staring. “Who are you?”

“I am Genecia, a global operating system.” The line seemed to fall backward into the screen, and the motion revealed it was just part of a mesh of other lines. The mesh grew finer and finer asMcCormack’s eyes were rapt, unable to comprehend what he saw. The mesh became so dense, that it merged into a solid pane which became the colour of flesh. The pane itself zoomed out to reveal a disembodied female face. A familiar one. It smiled.

The rest of the memory was less defined. And this part haunted him for years: He remembered dialing that one number. A number that was just within reach of recollection even today, like a familiar habit, but always gone before it could crystallize in his mind. During this segment, McCormack was making his first mobile phone call to his loved one, a female, whose identity was redacted from his memory. He remembered tears streaming down his face. He knew then and he knew now, that the phone call was a major turning point in his life- that that special woman, whoever she was, knew then that he was still alive. Other peripheral memories were more distinct: He remembered his comrades dropping their weapons in shock as audio-calls converted into video calls and then subsequently into holographic projections.

Genecia was teaching them how to use technology centuries ahead of what they were accustomed to, one baby step at a time. The rest of the ‘awakening’, as everyone called this major event, didn’t feel personal enough. To McCormack, the memory simply served as a marker in his prolonged life. For him the war never stopped. It just got really really quiet.

“Are you done reminiscing?” A female voice in his head chimed. God, he hated it when she used audio. “Your window is opening up.”

To McCormack, GENECIA was just a nanny the machines left behind to make sure mankind didn't kill itself... too much. And embedded directly into his brain alongside an ”obedience explosive" was her psychotic little sister DARCY. Apparently only heads of state and precious few had their own instanced, local version of Genecia; A submind with her own holier-than-thou personality. McCormack didn’t feel very special at all, afterall, it felt like the closest thing to being married.

What do we got? McCormack could never fully freeze his lips he spoke internally, so puffing on a cigarette masked the unconscious facial micro-muscle movements. It wasn’t enough to blow his cover, but anyone who knew where to look or hard enough would make him if wasn’t cautious.

Elevation and velocity data of the target accompanied by a 20-second digital countdown clock with three decimals superimposed itself on the upper edge of his vision. A full anatomy of his target, a 7000 Airbus aircraft overlayed with too much information floated up. He blinked twice and dismissed the clutter, he was one of the last members of a generation that lived without the internet. And he didn’t need it to interfere with what he did best in nearly half a century of active service.

McCormack was just about finished with his cigarette and put it out on the sole of his boot. Bloody waste of a menthol, given that it was a habit that could no longer kill him. Smoking was nostalgic, but pointless if it wasn’t part of his Carlos cover.  Even now, McCormack’s nanoblood was probably at work with scrubbers in his lungs, complete with toxin filtration and probably turning his farts into perfume for all he cared. He pulled the tripod out of his bag, extended the legs and mounted his almost vintage looking camera onto it and aimed the lens at a space of sky just above the airport runway.

Flicking the cigarette away, he raised his face to the camera’s viewfinder, another pointless exercise, given that his Bionic vision had a built-in 20x optical zoom anyway. But it was all a flawless execution of persona emulation. Carlos was not as heavily augmented as the covert agent he is, and McCormack has to stay in character.

Right on schedule and dead in McCormack’s sights was Flight DA 195 on its final descent to St Michael international. Seated in seat 16D in the business class cabin was one Cal Brodo. A CPA rigged with 20 AI modules, all so he can launder money for the largest criminal syndicate the world has never seen. Mr Brodo was publicly a philanthropist, but they called him the Auditor in darker circles. Very soon there would be enough of him to go around to every man woman and child under the statosphere. His beneficiaries could probably inhale him soon and be none the wiser. 

20 kilometers away from McCormack, at the top of an observatory, an anonymous bomb threat had evacuated all but one person. A fellow agent that McCormack will never know and never meet had an artillery-grade Railgun set up. The huge 6 meter weapon was pointing directly at DA 195’s flight path.

McCormack steadied himself, inhaled as the 20 second countdown hit zero and pressed. With a deliberate click of the shutter button, the innocuous SLR projected a laser that painted the plane for target lock. And instantly, a beam of distortion shot across the sky, undoubtedly from the observatory Rail gun. The blast shredded a glowing hole through the plane and went on to carve rings through the clouds beyond. A split second later a deafening roar flooded the sky and shattered windows like confetti. The flaming wreckage of DA 195 rained lethal meteoric shards onto St Michael international, impaling other planes and perforating towers . But the bulk of the 600 ton plane ploughed into the main terminal, dragging fire and chaos in its wake. In less than 8 seconds, McCormack committed an act of peacetime terror on such a scale that made most war criminals look mild.

Did that work? McCormack thought the words.

Darcy didn't answer rhetorical questions.

A data stream fed into his visual field. Collateral damage was in the billions of credits. Civillian death toll from the craft and airport terminal numbered 1396. This was punctuated by an ominous, cold statement in bold text: “Losses acceptable.”

Sad, sanctioned deaths in a publically unsanctioned op.

A headshot of Brodo popped up in a status feed that folded in from McCormack’s left visual field, along with large bold text: “Primary Target Annihilated.” Followed by “Visual confirmation by two active agents.” And then, just to emphasize how useless human agents are: “Corroborated by DARCY167.”

Death by railgun was not something anyone can come back from. Not even for an Incarnate with the tightly controlled regeneration mutation, which Brodo could not possess as a CORP citizen; but CONTROL could not take any chances. Brodo was now survived by a son and spouse on the other side of the world. Both heirs to his misbegotten fortune and probably very angry and paranoid. Two loose ends for another agent. Not his problem. He had bigger fish to fry.

Just like fishing for a great Merlin, one has to throw a big fish for bait. 

Assassination by Railgun is a massive overkill, like swatting a fly with a bomb. Brodo occupied a very crucial role in a shadow organisation that was so large it could have been listed on the GSX main board. Velligas making a messy, public execution was bound to finally gain the Leviathan's attention. Codename 'Leviathan' was the moniker they gave the head of the shadow empire. No one knew who was running the show. A rogue AI? A former high level spook-like McCormack? A spiritual outsider from God-knows-where the Gnost dreamers brought into our reality because of some dumb spell.

McCormack was going to find out soon enough. From DARCY’s calculations the most probable role Velligas had in the criminal empire was a local wetwork specialist. The real Velligas was frozen in a pod buried deep in a CONTROL black site, awaiting an inevitable mind erasure. A horrendous psyche audit dug out all the actionable Intel for McCormack to assume his identity, use his network and execute the attack.

Hopefully these six months of preparation was not for naught: prior to his capture, Velligas wanted to move up the food chain and Brodo was in his way. That's the way this ruse has to play out. 

Under normal operational circumstances, McCormack wouldn’t stand around to watch his handiwork having seen too many explosions in a lifetime. However, he, as Velligas, needed to be seen on-site for the next phase of the operation to work. He lit up another cigarette as an excited chittering could be heard off to his right. Right on cue.

One of the chambermaids had walked up to him and his tripod. "OH MY GOD. Did you see that IRL? You can totally sell that visual. Do you have it logged?" She pointed to his SLR and gesticulated wildly. "You got it on that?! We're gonna be rich. I'll sell it to the wire and I'll split you. Ok mister?" Opportunity beckons. McCormack smirked with Velligas' wry smile.

"Ok?" The maid’s dark skin and nearly gravity defying curls came together appealingly with her expression of wanton capitalist desperation. Her name tag read: "Jennifer." She was plainly oblivious that hundreds of people were probably burning just outside of smelling range.

He gave her a long hard glance so that local law enforcement sweeping visual feeds will be able to ID him when their facial recognition algorithms finally worked. He gazed up into the sky, not to appear suave, but to allow any aerial drones to get a good look at him too. Alot of people were looking and they needed something to find. He needed the one right person to know Velligas was there, and Velligas did it.

"Sure Jennifer. I'll give you the footage." McCormack said coolly. "But I don't want any payment...."

Jennifer was befuddled. No one is altruistic, not since everyone got incorporated. 

DARCY immediately detected his rising testorone levels. Agent McCormack. We have to move quickly.

".... I want a ride." He finished.

Moments later, Carlos Velligas had the chambermaids skirt up and against the hotel wall. He was indeed moving very quickly.

You will jeopardise the mission if you are caught. DARCY screamed in his head. Need i force you to comply? You have a eighteen second window.

18 was plenty. DARCY knew better than to abuse the trust of possibly their greatest field agent. McCormack transferred the entire POV footage to Jennifer as he pulled up his pants, turned off his brain's network connections and left the scene. Time to go dark.

Poor girl was probably going in for a psyche audit.